four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
33-Mar-Apr-2008
user_rating: 
0

A-Last Night at the LobsterRed Lobster manager Manny DeLeon, 35, has just found out that his restaurant is not meeting expectations and will close its doors on December 20. This novel follows the apathetic crew as they go through the motions of serving shrimp scampi for the very last time. Devoted Manny remembers his life under the fake blue marlin on the wall as he considers his broken relationship with a waitress and the pregnant girlfriend for whom he needs to find a gift. It’s life in a snowy corner of a strip near a Connecticut mall—in all its average, and surprising, glory.
Viking. 160 pages. $19.95. ISBN: 0670018279

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"O’Nan’s description of the landscape—the restaurant and the mall—derives its poetry from the author’s respect for detail. It’s literary without being condescending." Susan Salter Reynolds

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"O’Nan’s empathy for his characters is one of his great gifts as a novelist, and it is an impressive achievement that Manny’s misplaced affection for Red Lobster is not risible, but tragic." Nathaniel Rich

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"Strong fiction such as this offers not only diversion and entertainment but also the opportunity to experience life as another human being. To read Lobster is to take an enlightening walk in the shoes of a different kind of hero." Katherine Bailey

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s a story as common as yesterday’s business section, but O’Nan manages to tell it without sentimentality or condescension. He also conveys, with quiet power, the bonds, resentments, petty rivalries and sense of commitment that can pull a group of people, who may otherwise be relative strangers, through the rigors of the working week." Paul Wilner

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"It deals with one day at one restaurant, but there’s a larger story here about blue-collar jobs in a service economy. … It’s enough to send me back to a Red Lobster—if only to wonder about its employees and all their small and hidden dramas." Bob Minzesheimer

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The scope and emotional range of this poignant story are surprisingly narrow, as though O’Nan locked himself in a narrative box, tied one hand behind his back and then dared himself to make it engaging. The fact that he pulls it off is a testament to his precision and empathy." Ron Charles

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The characters populating O’Nan’s restaurant never leap off the page, and by the book’s end, no great strides have been made, no pivotal issues resolved." Vikas Turakhia

Critical Summary

In his 10th novel, Stewart O’Nan proves once again why he’s the "bard of the working class" by exploring how the closing of one chain restaurant profoundly affects many lives. Last Night at the Lobster may be a small story, dealing with the mundane details of restaurant life, but O’Nan’s complex characters provide a service—an everyday feat that many American novels ignore. Almost all critics praised the novel as a triumph in realism. O’Nan has certainly written bigger, more plot-driven stories before, but Lobster shows off his "pitch perfect ear for life in late 20th century America" to great effect (San Francisco Chronicle). It’s a "Zen koan of a book" (Los Angeles Times), and not to be missed—especially if you’ve served your share of scampi in life.